A firm specialising in data breaches has paid £45,000 damages to a competitor firm after admitting to sending plagiarised claim letters.
Widnes-based Hayes Connor agreed the out-of-court settlement with national firm JMW after sending the letter on more than 200 different occasions.
JMW only became aware of the issue when its partner Nick McAleenan was sent a letter of claim issued by Hayes Connor and recognised it as one that he and colleague Laura Wilkinson had drafted themselves.
Philip Partington, head of JMW’s intellectual property team, issued a claim for copyright infringement against Hayes Connor and others. Last month, before the matter came to trial, Hayes Connor acknowledged having reproduced a substantial part of the letter drafted by McAleenan and Wilkinson and using it without JMW’s permission.
Hayes Connor has told the Gazette that it did not know the letter had been copied, saying the firm had drafted the correspondence after taking advice on its wording from a barrister. The firm, set up in 2017 and marketing itself as ‘The Data Breach Experts’, is now under new management and is pursuing legal action against the barrister involved.
McAleenan described what happened as a ‘quite remarkable set of circumstances’, adding: ‘It’s highly unusual to find yourself staring at correspondence sent by another law firm which inexplicably contains passages copied verbatim from a document which you had written yourself.’
It initially acknowledged using the JMW letter as its own in 50 cases, before it was agreed the actual number was actually 242.
McAleenan said: ‘The actual scale of the infringement was simply staggering and rather disappointing. In a nutshell, they had made a business out of breaching our copyright.
‘Sadly, imitation, in this instance, isn’t the sincerest form of flattery. It’s simply a breach of copyright.’
As well as the damages, Hayes Connor has agreed to pay JMW’s costs involved in bringing the legal claim. A separate settlement has been agreed with the barrister involved.
In a statement, Hayes Connor said: 'We instructed a barrister who, unbeknown to us, copied sections of a precedent which were then used by us in letters of claim. We had no knowledge he had done this and two other firms also used the same material.
‘Although we had no knowledge of his actions, we have had to accept liability and have reached a settlement with JMW. We will now be pursuing our own action against the individual concerned. We instructed the barrister concerned in good faith and we obviously don’t condone his actions. It is no reflection on how we operate as a business and the standards our own people adhere to every day.'
This article is now closed for comment.